Fig, Olive Oil & Sea Salt Challah
Challah holds a very special place in our hearts. We love it for its beautiful, pull-apart braids, subtly honeyed dough, and soft texture — and for all the sweet family meals associated with it. And though there’s definitely a time and place for plain challah, when we feel like mixing it up, this recipe is the tops.
We made a purée of figs, orange zest, sea salt, and pepper, and then rolled it up in long logs of honey and olive-infused dough. To make the loaf, we wound the legs together in a glorious four-way braid. The braid is less complex than it seems, but if you lose your way, our best advice is to just keep going — it’ll work out, we promise.
Brush on a little egg wash before you tuck the loaf in the oven, and you’ll have a shiny, golden-brown crust. We also sprinkled on a little flake salt, too. When it comes out of the oven, pull a hunk off the loaf and take a bite. There’s a salty crunch, and then the soft, tender bread — eggy, redolent with honey and olive oil, and swirled through with sweet fig purée. It’s delightful.
This is a bread to share, and once you’ve got the hang of those braids, you’ll want to make it again and again throughout the high holidays. It’s so beautiful, your family won’t want to tear into it, but once they do, it’ll be gone in minutes.
Servings: 10 to 12
For the dough:
1 packet active dry yeast
¼ cup, plus 1 tsp, honey, divided
⅔ cup warm water (110º to 116º)
⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
3 large eggs, divided
2 tsp flake salt, plus more for garnish
4 cups all-purpose flour
For the fig filling:
1 cup dried figs, roughly chopped
⅛ tsp freshly grated orange zest
½ cup water
¼ cup orange juice
⅛ tsp sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
To make the dough: In a small bowl, whisk the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the honey into the warm water, and let it stand for a few minutes, until foamy.
In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, combine the yeast mixture with the remaining ¼ cup of honey, olive oil, and two of the eggs.
Switch to a dough hook, add the salt and flour, and mix at a low speed for 5 to 8 minutes.
Transfer the dough to an olive oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
Meanwhile, make the fig filling: In a small saucepan, combine the figs, orange zest, water, orange juice, sea salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the figs are soft and tender, about 10 minutes.
Season the figs with salt and pepper, and let them cool to lukewarm.
Chop the fig mixture in a food processor until it resembles a fine paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Set the filling aside to cool completely.
Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured counter and divide it in half.
Roll the first half of the dough into a wide rectangle. Spread half of the fig filling evenly over the dough, stopping ½ inch short of the edge.
Roll the dough into a long, tight rope, trapping the filling within. Gently roll and stretch the rope until it’s about 3 feet long, and then divide it in half.
Repeat steps 8 and 9 with the remaining dough and fig filling.
To braid the challah: Arrange two ropes in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a tight tic-tac-toe board. Weave them so that, where they meet, one side is over, and the other is under. From here, you can follow the written directions, or check out this video tutorial.
Take the four ropes that come from underneath the center and place each over the rope to their right — i.e., jumping it.
Take the ropes that were on the right and, again, jump each one over the rope to its left. If you have extra length in your ropes, you can repeat these right-left jumps until you run out of rope.
Tuck the corners or odd bumps under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered, heavy baking sheet, or if you’ll be using a bread stone, a baker’s peel.
Beat the remaining egg until smooth, and brush it over the challah. Let the challah rise for another hour. 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375°.
Before placing the bread in the oven, brush the loaf one more time with the egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The challah should be beautifully bronzed: if it starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. The very best way to check for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer — the center of the loaf should be 195º.
Cool the loaf on a rack before serving.
Recipe source: Smitten Kitchen